CORONAVIRUS is now spreading in the community at “very low” rates and is largely restricted to care homes, ministers believe.
Data on deaths and hospital admissions suggest infections across the UK are continuing to fall thanks to lockdown.
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Scientific advisers estimate each infected person is passing the bug on to fewer than one other.
They believe the reproduction rate, or R, is between 0.7 and 1 and are “confident” it is not above 1.
This means the epidemic is thought to be dying out.
Sources believe R would be much lower if rates in care homes and hospitals were calculated separately.
A source said: “Pure community to community transmission is very low.
“The number of new cases every day is coming down.”
The latest R rate is up slightly from 0.5 to 0.9 on Sunday.
Infection rates were expected to fall rapidly at first as the country came over the peak before slowing in the tail of the curve.
The source added: “We saw this quick fall that came from the diminution of the pure community epidemic.
“As that has fallen the epidemics in hospitals and the care sector have become a more important component of our overall epidemic.
“And because those are much harder to control, much slower to fall, we’ve seen this flattening off.”
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) is now trying to produce R rates for each region.
Typically there is a three-week lag from changes in lockdown restrictions to effects being seen in hospital admissions.
It means the easing of restrictions announced on Sunday will not yet be reflected in the new numbers.
Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said: “If you can estimate R you have part of a reliable tool for planning how to combat the virus.
“To keep R below 1 it is vital people stay alert and follow Government guidelines to the letter.
“We will update the estimate regularly.”
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University of Edinburgh’s Prof Rowland Kao said: “The continued estimation of R being below 1 is a good sign.
“Weekly fluctuations are only to be expected.
“It could experience a temporary rise because of the introduction of a random case into a new area, then decline again.
“Also important are considerations of geographical spread of new cases, and not just the overall R value.
“High concentrations in a location may put stresses on local healthcare, while bursts of cases in new locations may put at risk previously unexposed individuals.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The R rate is an incredibly important figure for policymakers but it is one data point to look at alongside the level of new cases.”
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